The humidity underground is about 50 percent, making it an ideal environment for storing many sensitive items. For instance, the original print of Gone with the Wind is stored in a vault here, according to Eric Ford, manager of marketing services for Hunt Midwest. The complex gets a perfect 100 score on the EPA's Energy Star certification system. Hunt Midwest says utility bills are 70 percent lower than they would be in an above-ground building. Hunt's brochure says lease rates are as much as 50 percent lower than in a surface building.
The rates are lower because "Mother Nature made the floors and ceilings," says Hunt's Ford.
Ventilation comes from the five vehicle portals through which hundreds of semitrucks come daily. There are also four railway portals. Lighting comes mainly from fluorescent fixtures. Those who like windows probably wouldn't enjoy working here.
Because the Transit was developed in Europe, Ford hopes European upfitters will move operations here or form ventures with U.S. companies.
"We're constantly receiving requests from existing or all-new companies that either want to relocate or start a new company for Transits," said Tim Stoehr, Ford commercial vehicle product marketing manager.
One such example is Sortimo International, a German maker of van interiors that has set up in the 100,000-square-foot subterranean workshop of Knapheide, which is installing Sortimo's rack systems. The system consists of racks, bins, shelves and toolboxes attached to the Transit's side walls.
Knapheide, a Quincy, Ill., upfitter founded in 1848 as a coachbuilder, had worked with Ford to make boxes and flatbed bodies for Ford E-series and F-series cutaway and chassis cab bodies. But with the arrival of the Transit and Transit Connect, Knapheide got interested in supplying the commercial van market and hooked up with Sortimo, which had experience with Transit installations in Europe.
"The Transit and Transit Connect has made the commercial van market a lot more attractive for us to be part of," said Brian Richards, Knapheide marketing communications manager. Plumbers, electricians and HVAC companies would be typical customers.